For Katherine, Jake, and Julia
ONE MINUTE THE teacher was talking about the Civil War.
KIDS POURED OUT of the school, alone or in small…
“THAT TRUCK,” SAM said, pointing. “Another crash.” A FedEx truck…
“LET’S HEAD FOR the plaza,” Sam said. He closed the…
NIGHT CAME TO Perdido Beach.
NO ONE SPOKE for several blocks.
LANA LAY IN the dark, staring up at the stars.
“SIT STILL, I’M trying to change your diaper,” Mary Terrafino…
SAM SLEPT IN his clothes and woke too early.
THE HUMMER WEAVED back and forth across the road, but…
SAM, QUINN, EDILIO , and Astrid moved off on foot,…
“COFFEE.” MARY SAID the word like it might be magic.
THEY TOOK NOTHING with them, just ran, with Quinn in…
SAM, ASTRID, QUINN, and Edilio flopped on the grass of…
JACK WAS SLOW to realize that he should follow Caine…
“YOU HAVE TO boil the water first. Then you put…
“I NEED MORE pills,” Cookie cried in a voice that…
ALBERT LEFT THE funeral ceremony and crossed the plaza toward…
“YOU DON’T HAVE to like the dude, brah, but he’s…
“IT JUST HAPPENED,” Drake announced.
“SHOW ME YOUR list,” Howard demanded. He was outside the…
ASTRID WANTED TO scream at Drake and Diana, to denounce…
ASTRID FELT A wave of relief followed by a far…
ASTRID ALMOST MISSED spotting the boat. She had gone to…
IT HAD BEEN two days since Lana had survived the…
SAM SWAM AT full speed and soon had his hand…
IT TOOK LANA far longer than she had expected to…
SAM, EDILIO, QUINN, Astrid, and Little Pete followed the FAYZ…
LANA’S FOOT CAUGHT a root and she fell onto her…
QUINN WAS SINGING a song. The lyrics were a sort…
THEY DROVE WITH maddening slowness from Perdido Beach to Coates.
LANA LIT ONE of Hermit Jim’s lanterns and surveyed the…
ALL THROUGH THE night the coyotes slammed against the door,…
THEY WERE SIX now. Sam, Edilio, Quinn, Lana, Astrid, and…
“WHERE ARE WE?” Sam woke up all at once and…
“HOLD HIM DOWN,” Diana yelled.
COOKIE ROLLED OVER and stood up. His legs were still…
“ASTRID,” EDILIO SAID. “I’m so sorry about your house.”
SAM SANG ALONG to the Agent Orange tune on his…
“THEY’LL COME TOMORROW evening,” Sam said. “I believe Caine needs…
THE DAYLIGHT HOURS passed quietly.
THE DAY CARE had no window facing the plaza. Sam…
“THEY’RE DOING IT,” Bug yelled as he burst through the…
QUINN WATCHED IN frozen horror as the coyotes attacked the…
A CLEAR SHOT.
THE FOOD SEEMED almost to crush the tables. Turkey and…
About the Author
About the Publisher
299 HOURS, 54 MINUTES
ONE MINUTE THE teacher was talking about the Civil War. And the next minute he was gone.
No “poof.” No flash of light. No explosion.
Sam Temple was sitting in third-period history class staring blankly at the blackboard, but far away in his head. In his head he was down at the beach, he and Quinn. Down at the beach with their boards, yelling, bracing for that first plunge into cold Pacific water.
For a moment he thought he had imagined it, the teacher disappearing. For a moment he thought he’d slipped into a daydream.
Sam turned to Mary Terrafino, who sat just to his left. “You saw that, right?”
Mary was staring hard at the place where the teacher had been.
“Um, where’s Mr. Trentlake?” It was Quinn Gaither, Sam’s best, maybe only, friend. Quinn sat right behind Sam. The two of them favored window seats because sometimes if you caught just the right angle, you could actually see a tiny sliver of sparkling water between the school buildings and the homes beyond.
“He must have left,” Mary said, not sounding like she believed it.
Edilio, a new kid Sam found potentially interesting, said, “No, man. Poof.” He did a thing with his fingers that was a pretty good illustration of the concept.
Kids were staring at one another, craning their necks this way and that, giggling nervously. No one was scared. No one was crying. The whole thing seemed kind of funny.
“Mr. Trentlake poofed?” said Quinn, with a suppressed giggle in his voice.
“Hey,” someone said, “where’s Josh?”
Heads turned to look.
“Was he here today?”
“Yes, he was here. He was right here next to me.” Sam recognized the voice. Bette. Bouncing Bette.
“He just, you know, disappeared,” Bette said. “Just like Mr. Trentlake.”
The door to the hallway opened. Every eye locked on it. Mr. Trentlake was going to step in, maybe with Josh, and explain how he had pulled off this magic trick, and then get back to talking in his excited, strained voice about the Civil War nobody cared about.
But it wasn’t Mr. Trentlake. It was Astrid Ellison, known as Astrid the Genius, because she was…well, she was a genius. Astrid was in all the AP classes the school had. In some subjects she was taking online courses from the university.
Astrid had shoulder-length blond hair, and liked to wear starched white short-sleeved blouses that never failed to catch Sam’s eye. Astrid was out of his league, Sam knew that. But there was no law against thinking about her.
“Where’s your teacher?” Astrid asked.
There was a collective shrug. “He poofed,” Quinn said, like maybe it was funny.
“Isn’t he out in the hallway?” Mary asked.
Astrid shook her head. “Something weird is happening. My math study group…there were just three of us, plus the teacher. They all just disappeared.”
“What?” Sam said.
Astrid looked right at him. He couldn’t look away like he normally would, because her gaze wasn’t challenging, skeptical like it usually was: it was scared. Her normally sharp, discerning blue eyes were wide, with way too much white showing. “They’re gone. They all just…disappeared.”
“What about your teacher?” Edilio said.
“She’s gone, too,” Astrid said.
“Poof,” Quinn said, not giggling so much now, starting to think maybe it wasn’t a joke after all.
Sam noticed a sound. More than one, really. Distant car alarms, coming from town. He stood up, feeling self-conscious, like it wasn’t really his place to do so, and walked on stiff legs to the door. Astrid moved away so he could step past her. He could smell her shampoo as he went by.
Sam looked left, down toward room 211, the room where Astrid’s math wonks met. The next door down, 213, a kid stuck out his head. He had a half-scared, half-giddy expression, like someone buckling into a roller coaster.
The other direction, down at 207, kids were laughing too loud. Freaky loud. Fifth graders. Across the hall, room 208, three sixth graders suddenly burst out into the hallway and stopped dead. They stared at Sam, like he might yell at them.
Perdido Beach School was a small-town school, with everyone from kindergarten to ninth grade all in one building, elementary and middle school together. High school was an hour’s drive away in San Luis.
Sam walked toward Astrid’s classroom. She and Quinn were right behind him.
The classroom was empty. Desk chairs, the teacher’s chair, all empty. Math books lay open on three of the desks. Notebooks, too. The computers, a row of six aged Macs, all showed flickering blank screens.
On the chalkboard you could quite clearly see “Polyn.”
“She was writing the word ‘polynomial,’” Astrid said in a church-voice whisper.
“Yeah, I was going to guess that,” Sam said dryly.
“I had a polynomial once,” Quinn said. “My doctor removed it.”
Astrid ignored the weak attempt at humor. “She disappeared in the middle of writing the ‘o.’ I was looking right at her.”
Sam made a slight motion, pointing. A piece of chalk lay on the floor, right where it would have fallen if someone were writing the word “polynomial”—whatever that meant—and had disappeared before rounding off the “o.”
“This is not normal,” Quinn said. Quinn was taller than Sam, stronger than Sam, at least as good a surfer. But Quinn, with his half-crazy half-smile and tendency to dress in what could only be called a costume—today it was baggy shorts, Army-surplus desert boots, a pink golf shirt, and a gray fedora he’d found in his grandfather’s attic—put out a weird-guy vibe that alienated some and scared others. Quinn was his own clique, which was maybe why he and Sam clicked.
Sam Temple kept a lower profile. He stuck to jeans and understated T-shirts, nothing that drew attention to himself. He had spent most of his life in Perdido Beach, attending this school, and everybody knew who he was, but few people were quite sure what he was. He was a surfer who didn’t hang out with surfers. He was bright, but not a brain. He was good-looking, but not so that girls thought of him as a hottie.
The one thing most kids knew about Sam Temple was that he was School Bus Sam. He’d earned the nickname when he was in seventh grade. The class had been on the way to a field trip when the bus driver had suffered a heart attack. They’d been driving down Highway 1. Sam had pulled the man out of his seat, steered the bus onto the shoulder of the road, brought it safely to a stop, and calmly dialed 911 on the driver’s cell phone.
If he had hesitated for even a second, the bus would have plunged off a cliff and into the ocean.
His picture had been in the paper.
“The other two kids, plus the teacher, are gone. All except Astrid,” Sam said. “That’s definitely not normal.” He tried not to trip over her name when he said it but failed. She had that effect on him.
“Yeah. Kind of quiet in here, brah,” Quinn said. “Okay, I’m ready to wake up now.” For once, Quinn was not kidding.
The three of them stumbled into the hall, which was now full of kids. A sixth grader named Becka was the one screaming. She was holding her cell phone. “There’s no answer. There’s no answer,” she cried. “There’s nothing.”
For two seconds everyone froze. Then a rustle and a clatter, followed by the sound of dozens of fingers punching dozens of keypads.
“It’s not doing anything.”
“My mom would be home, she would answer. It’s not even ringing.”
“Oh, my God: there’s no internet, either. I have a signal, but there’s nothing.”
“I have three bars.”
“Me too, but it’s not there.”
Someone started wailing, a creepy, flesh-crawly sound. Everybody talked at once, the chatter escalating to yelling.
“Try 911,” a scared voice demanded.
“Who do you think I called, numbnuts?”
“There’s no 911?”
“There’s nothing. I’ve gone through half my speed dials, and there’s not anything.”
The hall was as full of kids as it would have been during a class change. But people weren’t rushing to their next class, or playing around, or spinning the locks on their lockers. There was no direction. People just stood there, like a herd of cattle waiting to stampede.
The alarm bell rang, as loud as an explosion. People flinched, like they’d never heard it before.
“What do we do?” more than one voice asked.
“There must be someone in the office,” a voice cried out. “The bell went off.”
“It’s on a timer, moron.” This from Howard. Howard was a little worm, but he was Orc’s number-one toady, and Orc was a glowering thug of an eighth grader, a mountain of fat and muscle who scared even ninth graders. No one called Howard out. Any insult to Howard was an attack on Orc.
“They have a TV in the teachers’ lounge,” Astrid said.
Sam and Astrid, with Quinn racing after them, pelted toward the lounge. They flew down the stairs, down to the bottom floor, where there were fewer classrooms, fewer kids. Sam’s hand on the door of the teachers’ lounge, they froze.
“We’re not supposed to go in there,” Astrid said.
“You care?” Quinn said.
Sam pushed the door open. The teachers had a refrigerator. It was open. A carton of Dannon blueberry yogurt was on the floor, gooey contents spilled onto the ratty carpet. The TV was on, with no picture, just static.
Sam searched for the remote. Where was the remote?
Quinn found it. He started running through the channels. Nothing and nothing and nothing.
“Cable’s out,” Sam said, aware it was kind of a stupid thing to say.
Astrid reached behind the set and unscrewed the coaxial cable. The screen flickered and the quality of the static changed a little, but as Quinn ran the channels there was still nothing and nothing and nothing.
“You can always get channel nine,” Quinn said. “Even without cable.”
Astrid said, “Teachers, some of the kids, cable, broadcast, cell phones, all gone at the same time?” She frowned, trying to work it out. Sam and Quinn waited, like she might have an answer. Like she might say, “Oh, sure, now I understand.” She was Astrid the Genius, after all. But all she said was, “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Sam lifted the receiver on the wall phone, a landline. “No dial tone. Is there a radio in here?”
There wasn’t. The door slammed open and in rushed two kids, fifth-grade boys, their faces wild, excited. “We own the school!” one yelled, and the other gave an answering hoot.
“We’re going to bust open the candy machine,” the first one announced.
“That’s maybe not a good idea,” Sam said.
“You can’t tell us what to do.” Belligerent, but not sure of himself, not sure he was right.
“You’re right, little dude. But look, how about we all try and keep it together till we figure out what’s going on?” Sam said.
“You keep it together,” the kid yelled. The other one hooted again, and off they went.
“I guess it would be wrong to ask them to bring me
a Twix,” Sam muttered.
“Fifteen,” Astrid said.
“No, man, they were, like, ten,” Quinn said.
“Not them. The kids in my class. Jink and Michael. They were both math whizzes, better than me, but they had LDs—learning disabilities, dyslexia—that kept them back. They were both a little older. I was the only fourteen-year-old.”
“I think maybe Josh was fifteen, in our class,” Sam said.
“So he was fifteen, Quinn. He just…just disappeared. Blink and he was gone.”
“No way,” Quinn said, shaking his head. “Every adult and older kid in the whole school just disappears? That makes no sense.”
“It’s not just the school,” Astrid said.
“What?” Quinn snapped at her.
“The phones and the TV?” Astrid said.
“No, no, no, no, no,” Quinn said. He was shaking his head, half smiling, like he’d been told a bad joke.
“My mom,” Sam said.
“Man, stop this,” Quinn said. “All right? It’s not funny.”
For the first time Sam felt the edge of panic, like a tingling at the base of his spine. His heart was thumping in his chest, laboring as if he’d been running.
Sam swallowed hard. He sucked at the air, unable to take more than shallow breaths. He looked at his friend’s face. He’d never seen Quinn so scared. Quinn’s eyes were behind shades, but his mouth quivered, and a pink stain was creeping up his neck. Astrid was still calm, though, frowning, concentrating, trying to make sense of it all.
“We have to check it out,” Sam said.
Quinn let loose a sort of sobbing breath. He was already moving, turning away. Sam grabbed his shoulder.